RICHMOND, Va. -- Even with six years of fighting fires under his belt, Renard Cox approaches his job with the excitement of a rookie.
“I love it. I love putting this uniform on every day,” Cox said. “If you’ve ever been at this station when tones go off, it is a rush.”
The veteran of the Richmond Fire Department thrives on helping strangers in need. Protecting his roots on the city’s south side from Station 17.
“This is one of my dreams as a kid,” Cox said. “I used to come and frequently play in this district. So this is like home.”
His fellow firefighters are a true band of brothers and sisters.
“We’re not just a team. We’re a family,” he said.
The 43-year-old Richmond firefighter takes pride in the task at hand.
“It could be three or four o’clock in the morning. Tones go off. I’m wide awake,” Cox said. “It’s go time."
Renard is most comfortable wearing a uniform. Gear has served him well in his career choices past and present.
“You talk about uniforms. Helmets might be my favorite thing I swear,” Cox said.
His path to the fire service differs from the standard playbook.
“It was either play football or get caught up in the streets,” Cox said.
The Huguenot High School standout would eventually play college football at Maryland.
“Football for me wasn’t a job. It was a way of life,” Cox said.
The hard-hitting cornerback envisioned playing on an even bigger stage.
In 2000 he was signed by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent.
“It was amazing. It was almost like a dream come true,” Cox said.
While the Cardinals cut him, he did not that hiccup intercept his dream.
He worked even harder for the next seven years and played professionally in Canada and NFL Europe.
“That was my goal,” Cox said. “I want to hit you hard enough so that you might not want to catch the ball again.”
His big break arrived when he signed and played defense for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“Jacksonville’s team back then was amazing," he said. "We had Mark Brunel, Fred Taylor, Jimmy Smith."
His time with the Jags lasted one season, but the memories will linger for a lifetime.
“Was I pinching myself? Every day!” Cox said.
He may have left the game but the competitive spirit still burns inside.
“You have to be mentally ready every day you come in here,” Cox said.
In the fire service, Cox has faced a much different opponent. And not just on Sunday afternoons.
“With fire, it is a lot more dangerous. And you never know if you might come home,” Cox said.
Richmond Fire Battalion Chief David Pulliam is grateful that Cox joined his team.
“He is an all-star here. He is a hall of fame with us,” Chief Pulliam said. “You don’t know what your day is going to be like. You’re going to have your wins and the ones unfortunately that seem like losses but you know you have to get back on the truck and stay on that game and got to give it your all. And from his experiences in the NFL that is what he brought here.”
With his playing days behind him, Cox still counts his blessings. Football, firefighting, and fatherhood are all part of the touchdown Cox scored in life.
“It was the best feeling ever. Like Really,” the first responder who one time made a living stopping first downs said. “I made my dream come true. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Huguenot High School retired Renard Cox’s number in 2018.
Looking ahead to the Super Bowl between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals, Cox is going with Joe Burrow and the Bengals.
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